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"It can be a complete mindfuck and has a lot to do with the different of the guitar and the drummer, which make it almost feel like he's playing backwards," he says. "It's not your standard groove that you pick up in your bedroom as a teenager."
While learning ska was slightly easier for Bolena, having spent his adolescence in Florida listening to "tons of reggae," not everyone was weaned on Madness, The Selecter, and The English Beat. Bolena's spent the whole of 2TLK's lifespan teaching his bandmates the finer points of ska. He met Siebler in 2004after moving to the Valley a few years earlier and loaned the saxophonist a few of his CDs in order to get their nascent ska project off the ground.
It took 'em awhile to get things going before the band debuted as a seven-member ska cover band in 2002.
"We've gone through a lot of people trying to get a good lineup that can play ska, since most musicians shied away from it," Siebler says. "So we thought the best way was build a set of covers for everyone to learn and fill out the rest of the band. We used the cover gig to get us as far as we could and, eventually, move forward and start recording original songs."
While aping the likes of Mustard Plug and The Toasters, 2TLK built up a backlog of original material and earned a "party band" reputation and popularity among frat cats and the over-21 crowd, especially since the bulk of their gigs were at bars. They even played the local Strong Beer Festival four years in a row. ("Every year, we think there's no way they'll book us, since it gets a little too rowdy and a little out of hand, and they always call us," says Siebler.)
But despite all the fun 2TLK has at drunken gigs, they'd like to shed their "keg party with horns" label. Bolena says their sound has matured over the past five years, exemplified by their latest disc, Primeval Itch.
The catalyst behind the Lizard Kings' growth was the feedback they got after releasing their first album, 2008's Bomb's Away, which consisted of four years' worth of material. Although the band has been praised by the likes of Robert "Bucket" Hingley of The Toasters (who signed them to his Megalith Records indie label) and Skinnerbox's King Django (who mixed Primeval Itch), 2TLK also received their fair share of criticism. David Evans, editor of British fanzine SKAlphabet, particularly mentioned a certain shallowness and simplicity to the band's efforts.
"C'mon, guys, dig deep and get creative with your lyrical content, and you can help push ska music forward," Evans wrote. "No one is expecting a ska band to reinvent the wheel, but many of the tracks on [the album] are just spinning the wheels."
Bolena says it caused them to rethink some things.
"You realize, 'Oh, shit, we are like that,'" he says. "But it eventually made us a better band."
They moved away from the more third wave and ska-punk songs and got into incorporating more slower-paced rocksteady, soul ska, and other throwback aspects of ska.
Discussing what influenced Primeval Itch, Bolena drops the kind of names you'd find on a Trojan Records compilation.
"There was definitely some from first wave stuff, like Prince Buster, who is probably our big influence, Alton Ellis, and Desmond Dekker. If you listen to songs on the disc like 'Young Man' and 'Lovin' is Gone,' they are more like the rocksteady genre," he says. "It's something like what the Pietasters have tapped into in the past.
"The first album was more about the jams we had written — there really wasn't much thought behind it. Like any other adolescent entity, we came out with our first album, raging with pimples on our foreheads."
"Jerking off five times a day," Siebler adds.
"Exactly," Bolena says, without missing a beat. "And now we're more grown-up and I think our songwriting has definitely matured."
"Although I still [jerk off] five times a day," says Ventre.